Continuing our trip through the Minnesota Vikings' current roster, we move on to what might be one of the more interesting positions to watch during this year's Training Camp, that being the wide receiver position. The position was a bit of a wasteland as recently as a couple of years ago, but it would appear things are looking up for our favorite team.
Once again, a quick recap of how the team started and finished last year, as well as who currently resides on the roster at the wide receiver position.
How They Started Last Year: Greg Jennings (starter), Cordarrelle Patterson (starter), Jarius Wright, Adam Thielen, Rodney Smith
How They Finished Last Year: Jennings (starter), Charles Johnson (starter), Patterson, Wright, Thielen
How They Head Into Camp: Mike Wallace (starter), Johnson (starter), Patterson, Wright, Thielen, Stefon Diggs, DaVaris Daniels, Donte Foster, Isaac Fruechte, Jordan Leslie, Gavin Lutman
One of the bigger stories of the offseason involved the Vikings winding up with a receiver they pursued in 2013 to replace the one they ultimately wound up with. The team sent a fifth-round draft choice to the Miami Dolphins in exchange for Wallace (and a seventh-round pick), and parted ways with Greg Jennings after they couldn't come to an agreement on a restructure. While Jennings was the Vikings' leading receiver in each of the past two seasons, he didn't really live up to the big contract he got from the team during the 2013 offseason. Some of the reasons may not have been his fault, but in the end the Vikings decided they didn't have a spot for him.
Wallace, who has picked up a reputation as a bit of a malcontent after a couple of rough seasons in Miami, appears to be a better fit in the Norv Turner style of offense, and might be set to give Teddy Bridgewater an opportunity to go long more frequently. In terms of accuracy, Bridgewater did very well when it came to passes of more than 20 yards, and with teams having to devote attention to Adrian Peterson in the backfield, Wallace could be in a great position to take advantage of that. He does have a bit of diva in him, it appears, but really. . .how long do you suppose Mike Zimmer is going to put up with that?
Charles Johnson has been the subject of a lot of positivity this offseason. The Vikings snagged him off of Cleveland's practice squad before Week 3, and by the end of the season he had entrenched himself as a starter at wide receiver and one of Bridgewater's favorite targets. Johnson has sub-4.4 speed and very good size, and has been working with a "footwork guru" this offseason to refine his route running. He has already been tabbed as a player expected to "make the leap" in 2015, and can hopefully do that in his first full season on an NFL roster.
Speaking of making the leap, Cordarrelle Patterson was expected to do just that in 2014 after a big rookie season. Instead, he ended up being as much of a disappointment as any player in the league. He had a big performance in the season opener in St. Louis and then. . .just sort of disappeared. He didn't do much as a receiver or a runner and, more surprisingly, didn't do a whole lot as a kick returner, either. At times, it didn't appear that Patterson appreciated how hard he was going to have to work to stay on top in the NFL, and thought he could coast a bit. This offseason, he's been working with a man known as "Hell's Trainer" in an effort to regain his 2013 form. Zimmer and company have been fairly happy with his progress, from all reports, but we'll have to see how it translates when the bullets start flying.
That brings us to Jarius Wright, who is an interesting case as well. He is entering the final year of his rookie contract, and should be poised for a bigger role this season. However, with there starting to be a bit of a log jam at the position, I'm not sure how many snaps Wright is going to see. He's #3 on the depth chart right now behind Wallace and Johnson, but will probably have to hold off Patterson if things are going the way the coaching staff thinks they are. Still, Wright has shown a knack for making big plays when he's gotten the opportunity. It will be interesting to see how Norv Turner plans on using him.
As you saw from the listing at the top, the team carried five wide receivers last season, and if that's the case in 2015, a hometown favorite might be in some trouble. Detroit Lakes' own Adam Thielen made the team last year out of camp, and saw more time at receiver as the season went on. However, most of his best work came on special teams, highlighted by his blocked punt returned for a touchdown against the Carolina Panthers. Thielen has plenty of potential, and it's always nice to see the local kid make good.
However, the team used a fifth-round pick in this year's draft on Stefon Diggs out of the University of Maryland, and he is going to put Thielen's spot in some serious jeopardy. Diggs is a guy that might have come out a year too early, but is the sort of guy that could fill multiple roles in the Minnesota offense. He's sort of a Percy Harvin type, without the overriding tendency to throw weights at members of the coaching staff. Diggs could get a look as a return man, both on kickoffs and on punts, as well as a slot receiver on offense.
Now, if the team carries six wide receivers, Diggs and Thielen will both be fine as far as making the roster. However, if they decide they're only going to keep five. . .I've gotta tell you, as much as it pains me to say it, I don't see the team picking Thielen over Diggs. Thielen's work on special teams could force the Vikings to keep him around in that capacity (likely at the expense of someone like Marcus Sherels), but as it stands now, I think Thielen might have an uphill battle to make the roster again in 2015.
As far as the rest of the receivers. . .well, if I didn't mention them above, they're probably going to end up just being camp bodies, barring an injury or two. Guys like Daniels (coming off of a year lost to an academic scandal at Notre Dame) and Lutman (from Division II Pittsburg State) might be intriguing practice squad prospects, but I think the odds of any of the receivers outside of the "big six" making the roster this season are pretty long.
What do you make of the Vikings' wide receiver position going into camp? Do you think the team keeps six wide receivers? Is there a dark horse candidate that you think makes the squad?